Men's Soccer

Men’s Soccer Gears Up for Tough Conference Tournament

Neil Beran | The PhoenixSenior midfielder Billy Hency jumps to head the ball in the Nov. 6 match against Missouri State.

After falling to Missouri State University in its last regular-season match, the Loyola men’s soccer team is preparing for a tough Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s soccer tournament to hopefully punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. 

The Ramblers are led into postseason play by a seasoned group of three graduate students and five seniors. Head coach Neil Jones said the team is playing for its seniors on the last leg of their collegiate careers. 

“[We have] been talking about our five guys and how we need to play for them, how this is their last go-around,” Jones said. “They have put in a lot of work and effort to this program, and we owe them by giving our all.” 

Among Jones’s experienced group is senior midfielder Billy Hency, who leads the team in scoring with nine goals this season. Senior forward Fabian Becerra said Hency’s scoring potential is going to be critical to the team this weekend. 

“The other team is always watching him, seeing what he is doing,” Becerra said. “Whenever he has the ball, something special is going to happen.” 

On a team that has been together for years, Becerra said the team’s chemistry is the best he’s ever seen. Players are close with one another and are there, help each other, and try to mentor the first-year players, he said. 

“These past few weeks have been tough, but the team is really used to bouncing back,” he said. “We have really special players and really high charisma players that bring jokes and laughs but also know how to be serious. [There’s] really nice team chemistry right now.” 

Loyola earned the two seed spot in the conference tournament due to its 6-3-1 record in Valley play. With the second-place standing, the Ramblers received a first-round bye along with top-seeded Missouri State. 

Jones said the first-round bye will help give his team an advantage over their opponents as his team will have more time to practice and strategize for the semifinal match on Friday. 

“Games are very taxing on the body, physically and mentally,” he said. “We are able to work on some things today and focus on training to prepare ourselves for a tough matchup on Friday.” 

The conference tournament kicked off Nov. 9 with two quarterfinals matches. Four-seed University of Evansville (4-13-1, 3-6,1) took down five-seed Drake University (6-9, 3-7) 4-2 in Evansville, Indiana.

Junior winger Nkosi Graham’s two goals lifted the Purple Aces to victory, while Drake senior forward Juan Louis’s two goals weren’t enough to lift the Bulldogs to victory. 

Bradley University (5-11-1, 3-7) played Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (6- 10-2, 4-6) in Edwardsville, Illinois for the other quarterfinals matchup. 

The Braves took the match 2-1, besting the Cougars with goals from sophomore forward Danny Collins and sophomore midfielder Rasmus Smidstund. 

Due to tournament seeding, Loyola will play Evansville Nov. 12. Evansville averages 0.82 goals per game while allowing 2 goals a game. 

The Purple Aces are a physical team, earning 41 yellow cards and two red cards this season. This season, the Ramblers are 1-0- 1 against Evansville, battling to a 0-0 double-overtime tie Sep. 18 and crushing the Purple Aces 5-1 Oct. 16. 

For every Valley team, Missouri State is the team to beat in the conference tournament. The Bears (15-1, 10-0) are ranked No. 11 in the AP Top 25 and are riding an NCAA-best 13-match winning streak. The Bears excel by averaging 2.19 goals per game while only conceding 0.63 goals per game. 

Junior forward Jon Koka leads the team with five goals. In its two matches against Missouri State this season, Loyola lost 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 9 and 2-1 on Nov. 6. 

Missouri State will face Bradley Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri. The Bears won both of their matches against the Braves this season, beating Bradley 1-0 Oct. 2 and 4-0 Oct. 31. 

Becerra said it’s easy to focus on Missouri State, but the team needs to keep its sights on winning on Friday first. He said his team and the Bears have a strong rivalry, adding extra incentive to win Friday and try to beat Missouri State on their own pitch. 

“We have a rivalry going against Missouri State, so it would be nice to beat them on their own field,” he said. “That’s one of our goals this weekend, and hopefully we can get to that.” 

The Ramblers begin postseason play with the semifinal match of the MVC men’s soccer tournament Nov. 12 in Springfield, Missouri. Kick-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

The tournament championship game is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Springfield. The match is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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